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This is a guest blog post from Murray Johnson (Chief Advisor, Strategy at Tertiary Education Commission) and Glen Thurston (Senior Strategic Advisor at Inland Revenue) about their experience in Lab+ prototyping new ideas for service delivery.

Improving outcomes for students

We’ve been involved in a short design sprint with Lab+ over the last month: a design sprint is a unique week-long process for answering critical questions by prototyping and testing ideas with customers. It’s been an interesting experience drawing people from different agencies together to work on a shared problem that we can all get behind.

Our small team comprised people from Tertiary Education Commission (TEC), Inland Revenue (IR), Commission for Financial Capability (CFFC) and Lab+. We looked at the problem of students having difficulties understanding the factors that influence the size of their student loan and the value they gain from it. Their choice of study and how to fund it can have long-term consequences if not managed carefully. As government agencies, our goal is to improve study and borrowing choices to lift students’ prospects in their communities because there can be life-long consequences of people not finishing their studies or not taking the best study option for them. Aspirational stuff to tackle in one week!

We initially went into the sprint with the idea of testing a tool that outlines the real cost of borrowing, so students see the possible future size of the loan which will assist them to make rational and clear decisions around their borrowing. While that still forms a big component of the prototype we created (as in Video 1 or Better Choices v1.5  Adobe clickable wireframe), we also realised that for a tool to be successful, a more holistic approach would be needed. We identified that creating a ‘team’ to support a learner’s decision and ongoing study to keep them on track could be helpful – most notably getting future students and their Family/Whanau to talk about money and other aspects that support study choices.

Video 1. ‘Lab+: BetterChoices prototype (demo)'
Video transcript

[Voiceover] Meet Alex. Alex is interested in a career in marketing. Alex has already selected her career choice and is examining her career options. On this page Alex can see information about her career: the average salary, starting salary, what education levels are required, and what’s the growth in that industry. She can also see similar occupations in terms of income earning potential, and also extra study that may require.

[Presenter indicates a section which suggests who Alex might talk to for guidance] Alex can also assemble a team around her to help her with her choices.

[Presenter opens a panel] There’s information relating to whanau and family, and these are prompts to help prompt conversations between learners and their families. [Presenter closes panel]

[Presenter opens a panel] There’s some information about how to get help around finances both before study and through study. [Presenter closes panel]

[Presenter opens a panel] There is information around seeking support from employers, mentors, plus also industry groups. [Presenter closes panel]

[Presenter opens a panel] Advice in choosing a career and also choosing courses and support while studying. [Presenter closes panel]

[Presenter opens a panel] Finally, there’s a prompt for thinking about the future. These are prompts that help people to think about the future and the implications for that particular career. [Presenter closes panel]

Right, let’s get started with how Alex would choose a particular education provider and the costs associated with that study choice. [Presenter activates a “Next” button.]

[The page describes types of education providers] First, Alex chooses a place to study. [Presenter selects a provider] From here Alex can see information about the course and associated costs over three years. Alex has the ability to actually add information about her living expenses. [Presenter inputs information about living expenses and hits “Next”]

Components of the team wheel are highlighted to indicate to Alex people who can help with this decision point. [The application highlights parts of Alex’s team. Presenter hits “Next”]

Study and living costs - here Alex can add the contributions required to pay for study and living costs. [Presenter uses sliders to make adjustments] Then Alex can see what student loan would be required to top up the contributions to living costs.

Next, Alex can see the final screen relating to her choice. It shows a comparison to other providers. Alex can also get to see how long it would take the repay the loan based on approximate starting salary. [Presenter hits “Next”]

Alex can save and choose to start again with another provider or choose another career to explore.

This is what Better Choices is all about. Easy to digest information about choices, help with making those choices, and showing the cost and value over time of those choices.

Testing our ideas

We tested the prototype with a limited but diverse group of customers and indication is that our approach is on the right track. The sprint also had other benefits too. All the concepts and ideas generated by the team can be reused to inform our future work programme plus there was plenty of goodwill created between people from agencies to work together on something with a collective goal.

What’s going to happen to the prototype now? Using feedback, we’ve made some changes to it and we’ll use it to seek support from education-related agencies to develop it further. Assuming there is value for customers, there are a lot of decisions and design work that needs to be done before it could be implemented. After all, it was only created and tested in 5 days.

The prototype is only one way that will help us achieve our goal - more will be needed to create better outcomes across the sector. The sprint process shows us that bringing people together in the right environment with permission to try things, innovation will happen. Our lesson’s for next time is that more lead-in time is required to assemble the team, bring everyone up to speed with each other’s research, line up agency experts and bring in more customers.


We’re really proud of the professionalism, dedication and determination the team showed to create the prototype by the end of the sprint. They had fantastic support from experts from TEC, IR, CFFC and IR over the week, so thanks to all the agency people who gave up their time at very short notice to help the team out.

Big thanks to the Lab+ team for offering us the opportunity to be part of the lab experiment and the facilitator team from Creative HQ who hosted and guided our team during the week.

All up it was a unique and valuable experience to be part of and points the way to how we can collectively to work on things that improve the lives of New Zealanders.

For more information about the prototype refer to the screencast video that demonstrates how it works (video or clickable wireframe options).

For more information about the process we followed and insights/outcomes please refer to Better Choices Design Sprint Summary, as a PDF 175KB or PPTX 524 KB), or read it below.

Lessons and definitions

What is a Design Sprint?

A Design Sprint is a unique week-long process for answering critical questions through prototyping and testing ideas with customers.

Sprint Problem (starting point)


  • Customers have difficulties understanding the factors that influence their loan balance.  Their decision to draw down on their loan to fund their study choice has long-term consequences.


  • As government, we want to improve study and borrowing choices to lift students’ prospects in their communities because there are consequences of people not finishing their studies.

Sprint Outcome (desired)

  • Customers are more capable to make better study and borrowing choices.  They show increased engagement, both at the moment they make their decision, and after the loan has been drawn down.
  • Customers feel more empowered with increased confidence with their loan and education choices.

Customers (targeted)

  • First-time studiers
  • First year borrowers
  • Last year secondary school students
  • Typical age group 16-25


Over the course of the week the team storyboarded a prototype intended to help customers make their study and funding choices:

  • Showing key information (education level, income, outlook and related occupations) of a specific career (media and advertising)
  • Introducing the concept of the “Team”- a support network to help customers navigate and make better study choices.  The five elements in the Team are family, future occupational outlook, sources for career and education advice, employment and financial tools+resources.
  • Comparing student loan amount and loan terms based on  several scenarios ( education providers, funding sources, etc).
  • Using a graphic visualisation tool (a half wheel “gauge”) to show the Return on Investment (ROI ) of a particular scenario. ROI is based on the loan term calculated from loan amount and projected income of a specific scenario.

Customer testing

The team tested the prototype with four customers on Friday with the following highlights:

  • Customers understood the tool. While they found the layout clean and simple, they would like to see definitions and additional information by hovering over text and images.
  • Customers appreciated the concept of the “team”, but they seek studying/career advice from different sources based on their individual circumstances.  It is important to design a tool that appeals to a broad group of customers, and encourages them to build their own team based on their individual circumstances.
  • Customers liked the feature allowing them to evaluate different scenarios.  They would like the ability to see a side-by-side comparison, and the ability to personalise the options.
  • One customer suggested using this tool as a personal one-stop-shop for study/finance/career decisions instead of going to multiple websites to accomplish multiple tasks.
  • All customers said they’d reconsider their choices after seeing how long it may take to repay their loan based on their figures.
  • All customers had difficulties understanding the ROI graphic.  They associated the score as a test or a game, rather than a qualitative measure of the ROI calculated from loan amount and projected income.

Lab+ is housed in the Service Innovation Lab, which is an experiment carried out under the leadership of the ICT Partnership Framework’s Service Innovation Group. It's managed by the Service Innovation Team in Department of Internal Affairs in partnership with Assurity Consulting.

Check out earlier blog posts about Lab+ and the Service Innovation Lab.

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